Since coming into politics in Nigeria, one factor that perhaps launched Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima into prominence was his adoption of the Sharia legal system as governor of Zamfara State.
His interest to contest the 2023 presidential ticket, he doused the fears and apprehensions of many Nigerians that Islamising the country will not be his mission if elected.
In this interview, he spoke on various national issues.
Don’t you think that APC zoning agreement pre-merger will affect your aspiration and interest in the Presidency in 2023?
I don’t think there is anything like agreement. You can ask Mr President; he led the group, Asiwaju was there, I was part of it, there was no meeting I didn’t attend or any meeting that I attended that there was such agreement. Agreement can’t be verbal, it has to be written. In any case, any agreement that is contrary to laws of this country is not an agreement.
The Constitution is very clear, the party Constitution, the Electoral Act, we are in a democracy governed by processes and procedures and by laws. So, the Constitution of Nigeria doesn’t recognize anything called zoning and likewise APC Constitution. If there is that agreement, why didn’t we put it in the Constitution?
So, nobody will just come and say that there is an agreement, take your Constitution and amend it, put that agreement and if there, then nobody will come from another side and work against the Constitution. As a democrat, as a citizen of Nigeria, I can aspire based on the laws of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Constitution has given rights and privilege to every citizen who believes he has something to offer to aspire for any office, irrespective of his state of origin, his tribe, ethnicity, religion; you have right, and the Constitution has given us guarantee to participate in the political process.
We all know that there is no provision for zoning in the Nigerian Constitution but the President is from Katsina, North-West zone, you are from Zamfara, North-West zone; will it be proper for a North-West person to also succeed President Buhari?
Can I give you an example of America, George Bush (snr) was President, and George Bush (jnr) became President. They are from the same family not from the same state, not from the same zone. This is democracy, if Nigerians decide to vote for Yerima, so be it.
The governors in the North-West states have been accused of unduly romancing insurgents and bandits by way of granting amnesty to them. What is your take on this?
Initially, I was in support of negotiations having seen that it worked in the Niger Delta issue. We got an amnesty programme and that is why we have peace in the Niger Delta. So, anything that will bring peace and stability, I think it should be considered. However, the governors should employ a carrot and stick approach, talking to them where necessary and using military and police power to ensure that all those erring members of the insurgents who refused to accept the agreement reached between them and the government are brought to book. So, that is what they need to do.
Can you confirm the rumour that you have been receiving 1999 governors in the quest for this your presidential ambition as well as reviving your own faction of the merger team of ANPP stock that formed the APC?
We have one APC and the merger is consummated and we are operating a political party. ANPP is gone, Nigerian Governors Forum 1999 to 2011 is an Association of people that have shared interest. In politics, you will not be surprised; James Ibori who is in PDP is a very close friend of mine who can support me.
So, once you are contesting, you reach out to all shades of opinion and people from all walks of life in Nigeria; explain to them your ambition, programs and what you want to achieve; what do you want to offer Nigeria; if they share the same opinion with you, they can be in another party and they can vote for you.
When I started this mobilization, I developed an application which is being downloaded on android or iPhone and I have forms that are printed carrying the same information that we need to upload to the system. My objective is to see that before I officially declare, I will have at least 30 – 40 million supporters and I assure you I have the capacity to achieve that. I already have very close to two million people all over the country.
I have more than 4000 supporters in Imo, I have more than 7000 supporters who have declared their interest to support me in Enugu State, I have over 400, 0000 supporters in Katsina State, different states, PDP, APC. That is why I said it depends on your ability to mobilize Nigerians across party lines to vote for you. It’s not your party members that support you. You will see some people who are senior leaders of a political party coming to support a candidate that they believe has something to offer.
Having made Zamfara a Sharia State, the fears of every Nigerian is whether you will Islamise Nigeria if you come to the National stage?
Nigerians are sometimes very illiterate of their own Constitution and that is why this kind of question will come. Section 38 of the Nigerian Constitution specifically stipulates that every Nigerian has freedom of religion, either to practice his religion alone or in community with others, in private or in public, even including changing his religion if he wishes.
They also don’t see the content of the Constitution. The constitution has provisions for Common Law for Christians, Sharia law for Muslims and Customary law for non-believers of the two faiths. Those provisions are very clear; I didn’t do anything outside the provisions of the Constitution. Under democracy, you have to prepare a law, send it to the State House of Assembly if you are Governor, or send it to the two Chambers of the National Assembly, if you are the President.
They will pass this law after deliberation and in the course of discussion, there is what we call public hearing where you give opportunity to people outside the Assembly to come and contribute, debate this matter, once it is passed by the State or National Assembly, then the governor or President can sign it and it becomes law. I didn’t do anything outside the Nigerian constitution; otherwise, the Federal Government then under President Olusegun Obasanjo would have taken me to the Supreme Court.
If any governor passes any law that is contrary to the Constitution, the Federal Government can go to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court will now pronounce that law as unconstitutional and that Governor will have some sanctions.
You see, this is my friend, Prof. Ojunbe from Imo State, he is a Christian, and he has been with me for a very long time. Going to Zamfara, I was the only governor, in fact, the first governor in Northern Nigeria to sign a Certificate of Occupancy for a Church. It was one Church called Ladies of Fatima whose C of O expired 25 years before Zamfara was created and this 25 years they have been pursuing the renewal of the Certificate since North Western States – Sokoto, Niger, Kebbi, Zamfara, were one State.
Niger was taken away, Sokoto became Sokoto and Zamfara then Kebbi was created and it remained Sokoto and Zamfara and later Zamfara was created. It was only then when I became the first Director-General, Land, Housing and Survey that they met me and said they have been suffering for 25 years just to get C of O renewed.
I quickly got their file, processed it through the Land Use and Allocation Committee of the State and we recommended it to the Military Governor then. Of course, the governor didn’t sign it. When they heard that I resigned my appointment to contest for governorship, they came to me and said they will support me if I promise them that I will sign their Certificate of Occupancy. I laughed and said, if I can recommend your Certificate for signing to the governor, what will stop me from signing if I become governor.
“They took me to their congregation in the Church, I made the same promise. They took me round to every Church in Zamfara at that time, in fact, at the end of the day, there was meeting I had with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in Zamfara State at that time and they told me that they have three problems in the North not only in Zamfara.
One, they were able to get land to build Churches and even if they buy land with their money, the government does not give them building approval and when they build, they don’t get a certificate and sometimes because of lack of certificate, they demolish their Churches. I now promised them that I was going to stop that in Zamfara as a governor, not in the North and that’s what I did. I fulfilled my campaign promises.
On the Sharia law, people didn’t go to find out what Sharia that Yarima did. Of course, there was Sharia and for Muslims. The Sharia law clearly stipulated that Christians are exempted. You know in the North, some Igbo traders, Yoruba, Christians use to take their cases to Sharia Court not Muslims. So, I said for me, the government of Zamfara to be protected from allegation that a Christian is forced when he takes his case to Sharia Court, I made provision in that law that if there is case between Muslim and Christian, the Christian has the right to choose which court he wants to go.